For many Pillar Point fishermen, the smartphone and laptop are becoming as indispensable for the job as the traditional hook and bait.
Salt water may be the bane of electronics, but many local fishermen say they now need to be wired out on the high seas. They need to check global-positioning maps, trade tips and shoot out a Twitter alert when they’re heading back with the latest catch.
The communication needs of local fishermen have become a top issue for the San Mateo County Harbor District as it considers installing wireless Internet around the docks. Commissioner Sabrina Brennan is pressing the idea. She says commercial fishermen urged her to make Wi-Fi a priority when she took office.
“In order to run their business, they need to be on their iPad or computers to sell their fish,” she said. “Any active commercial fisherman, I think, would be using it. All the fishermen I know are online.”
Making the case for expanding Internet connectivity, Brennan pointed out the service is already freely offered at other harbors around the Bay Area. That day could come soon when boat owners planning out a voyage decide to bypass Pillar Point simply because it doesn’t have a strong Internet connection, she said.
The Harbor Commission discussed expanding Internet service on two occasions in public, and district staff is currently putting together a cost comparison for a future meeting.
The harbor does already have wireless antennae from Coastside.net, but few fishermen pay for the service. Instead, many reportedly head over to nearby restaurants or coffee shops to log online.
Having a data connection has become nearly essential for many fishermen. Email has proven perhaps the most reliable way for the fishing community to stay organized. Some fishermen are branching out to use social media to reach out to customers.
Local anglers believe better Wi-Fi on the docks would be a boon, but they say the devil’s in the details. Commercial fisherman Jim Anderson pointed out that most of his colleagues could make use of an Internet connection intermittently, but not enough to justify paying for it. The last thing the fishing community would want is for the service to cause their berth rates to go up.
“For convenience, it’d be great to have some kind of free service,” Anderson said. “But these guys don’t want another $20 to $30 monthly bill.”
Harbor district officials have given no indication whether they would look to recover costs from their ratepayers. That call could depend on the costs of the services and who is seen as benefiting most from it. Harbor District Manager Peter Grenell said the issue could come down to what services boaters want the harbor to provide.
“Water, telephone, cable, Wi-Fi — there’s any number of things that one would like to have and ideally provide for free,” he said. “There’s a lot of questions to ask.”